Colson Baker is best known for the music that he has made under the name Machine Gun Kelly, which includes four albums that have cracked the Billboard top 10 — his 2012 debut studio album Lace Up, 2015’s General Admission and two that hit number one, 2020’s Tickets to My Downfall and 2022’s Mainstream Sellout. The New York Times recently called him “the jester prince of a new wave of pop punk.” But he has also racked up an impressive list of acting credits under his own name for prominent directors including Gina Prince-Bythewood, Cameron Crowe, Susanne Bier and Judd Apatow.
Baker’s most recent — and most acclaimed — screen performance can be seen in 2022’s Taurus, a film in which he plays a self-destructive rock star. It had its world premiere at February’s Berlin Film Festival, screened at April’s Tribeca Film Festival and also played at last week’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival, which feted the 32-year-old with its Discovery Award. It will next be released in select theaters before the end of the year.
While in Savannah, Baker sat down with The Hollywood Reporter, in front of an audience of students, to record an episode of THR’s Awards Chatter podcast. You can listen to the conversation — or read a lightly edited version of it — below.
THR Thank you again for being here. We have a lot of excited people, including myself, who really appreciate it. On this podcast, we always begin right at the very beginning. Where were you born and raised and what did your folks do for a living?
BAKER I was born in Houston and lived there for two weeks and then I moved to Africa until I was about six. I lived in Egypt and Kenya. My first word was an Arabic word. I spent a lot of my younger years moving around, and then I spent my teenage years in Cleveland, Ohio.
THR You have sort of suggested, and I think it’s interesting to think about, that acting, in a way, probably began for you because of the fact that you were having to quickly fit in to so many new places.
BAKER Yeah. I was the first kid with leg hair in my school, and I was very tall and money would come and go. Basically, I had these two outfits I would always wear, and the shorts were way too short. And this is before we all started to like short shorts, let’s like short shorts are now. But I couldn’t get a girl to look at me to save my life.
THR Part of the reason you were moving around, I believe, had to do with your father’s profession, right?
BAKER Yeah, we still don’t really know what he did. Some of my friends were like — we had theories like, “Was he a CIA agent?” I don’t really know what he did, to be honest, but he was very, very religious. Anytime I was in trouble, he would sit me down and read the Bible to me.
THR Well, let me just note a few things you’ve acknowledged in other interviews…
BAKER I’m so nervous. I’m just going to stand up and walk around.
THR You got into a little dabbling with drugs at 11?
BAKER Damn right. I had a friend whose older sister dated a rave DJ, and this was back before everyone became a DJ. This is late 90s, early 2000s, warehouse DJ like true rave shit. So we tried ecstasy very early in life. I told Miles Teller this story when we first met each other, I was like, “Man, I always wanted to be an Air Force pilot because I saw Top Gun when I was a kid.” And for those of you who aren’t older than 20 years old, there was a first Top Gun before this Top Gun!
THR Although, Tom Cruise looks the same, pretty much.
BAKER Yeah, for sure. So I almost got my pilot’s license. I was 20 hours away from getting it. I was really into flying. It was way too expensive for us to afford to keep doing it, but I really wanted to be a pilot. And then when all my friends started smoking, I was like, “Man, I can’t. The Air Force Academy tests your hair to see if you’ve ever done drugs, so I can’t do it.” And then I just dove full in and was like, “I’m never going into the Air Force after this.” Who told you I did drugs at 11 years old?
THR I think you did. There was a podcast. Arrested at 14, I believe?
BAKER I was arrested earlier than that, but sure.
THR Earlier? OK. Kicked out of Kuwait?
BAKER Yeah, I had gotten into a scuffle with the wrong person in Kuwait. I moved there my freshman year before I moved to Cleveland, Ohio.
THR All these different forms of acting out a little bit — what do you think was at the root of that?
BAKER Basically I have — what do you call it when you’re like, “I really want my mom to love me”? Yeah, I think I have mommy and daddy issues.
THR When you moved to Cleveland, that’s when the interest in music — which had been there, I read, since you were in Denver, going back to fourth grade — that’s when you started to get into it more heavily, partly because you had been getting shit from other kids?
BAKER Well, I always had really big dreams. Every day was Halloween to me. I would be a different character all the time. “Oh, I want to be an Air Force person.” I remember one day I saved up like 60 bucks and I went and bought this whole karate outfit because I wanted to be a Super Saiyan because I was obsessed with Dragon Ball Z — I felt them when they got so angry that they would be transformed into a different person. That’s how I felt when I would get mad. In high school, I worked at a grocery mart called Dave’s Supermarket — I was a cart boy. And then I started working also at this airbrush shop, and my manager at the airbrush shop, he was a solid 350 [pounds], and he always had these big fur coats — fake fur. And this movie called American Gangster came out with Denzel and Russell Crowe, and I watched that and immediately I was like, “I’m going to drop out of school and sell cocaine and be the biggest drug lord ever.” And I stole his fur coat and wore it to school the next day with my dad’s suit because that’s how Frank Lucas dressed. Just to show you the delusion of how much I was willing to just dive into character. My whole point is that my dreams were always so big that it was uncomfortable for people. I also saved up all this money to get this CD burner that could burn 500 CDs, and I would walk around my school and I would rap for everybody. Everyone was just like, “Homie, I’m just trying to get an A, I don’t know what you’re…” And I would be like, “I need $5 for my talent.”
THR But let’s go back even before that. The idea that you would be rapping at all, what was it that you were listening to or driven by that led you to even start doing that?
BAKER I was so obsessed with music at the time. Last night I was in a restaurant, I think it’s called Husk, and a song called “Changes,” by Tupac was on. And I immediately walked in and I go, disc number two of the Greatest Hits album, track number five. And we looked it up and “Changes” is track number five on disc number two of the Greatest Hits album. I’m a music freak. I study the craft so intensely. I don’t know if I ever really speak about that as much. I can rap every word of the first five Nas albums word for word. I waited in line for the Blink-182 album when it was happening. Me and my friend split College Dropout/Hybrid Theory — we would break the headphones so he could listen to one ear and I would have the other ear. Music was my comfort. I was just a music freak. I couldn’t stop listening to music.
THR Growing up in the late 90s, early 2000s, people might assume, if they don’t know a ton about you or if they haven’t heard “Rap Devil,” that the person who influenced you the most was Eminem. I mean, how many big white rappers were there? But in fact, you’ve said it was DMX…
BAKER Oh, I was huge on DMX. Every time I ran away, I would listen to DMX. I always related to him. His best friends were his dogs, and I really related to the loner aspect. I’m an only child.
THR People might wonder when and why you got the nickname Machine Gun Kelly…
BAKER I was notorious in Cleveland for rapping for everybody. The airbrush shop that I worked at was in Tower City, which is the center point where east meets west in Cleveland, Ohio. So the train station from the east side — I’m from the east side — you take it down there and then you can get to the west side from there. It’s just the center hub of the train stations. And it was also a mall. So everyone who was taking the train downtown would also come and walk around. And where I’m from, Gucci Man and Jeezy and Yo Gotti at the time were Jay-Z to everybody in the city. For some reason, they just resonated so heavy — like southern music in Cleveland was it. I was also huge on Bone Thugs. And yeah, I would just rap for everybody over any beat possible. I would always battle. And I met this guy, he was also named after a gangster. And I was looking for my niche and I was like, “Oh, well I can rap really fast.” [And that’s where the name came from.] It’s really a simple story. It wasn’t like I walked around with a machine gun.
THR People sometimes look at someone who’s successful and assume that finding success was quick and easy—
THR From 2007 to 2010 you were putting out mix tapes and, like, handing them out at malls. And in 2009, you took a trip to the Apollo Theater in New York…
BAKER For those who don’t know, this venue is the most special place as far as these venues go. It’s called the Apollo — it’s in Harlem, New York, on 125th Street — and there’s this night there called “Amateur Night at the Apollo” or “Showtime at the Apollo.” And people basically go there and to boo. It’s kind of notorious — you come with your friends and you boo everybody, even if they just somewhat suck, you boo them. People that came from there are like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, James Brown, Jazmine Sullivan, all these really talented people. And just on a whim, one day— I had just stopped working at Chipotle. I found the person who is still my manager. And I was looking online and I saw that they were bringing “Amateur Night” back at the Apollo. So we drove out for the tryouts. We got there at 2 a.m. We waited in line. I was 49th in line — I’ll never forget. I still have the piece of paper that says I’m 49th. And by the time the doors opened at noon, there were thousands of people lined up. I’m talking about people who flew in from Japan, who were dance groups. I heard no rappers ever make it. And God bless his heart, the guy in front of me, and I haven’t talked to him since, but I bonded with him heavy in line. He was a rapper too. And his name was Terrible Tim. And I was like, already, “I don’t know how you’re going to…”
THR You’re in trouble.
BAKER Yeah. So he went up and as soon as he started rapping, they were “Next.” And then it was my turn. I don’t want to invent this for the sake of the story, but I think it was the coldest day in New York in 10 years or something like that, and so my jaw was like lock-jaw because we had been out there since 2 a.m. waiting in the line. And I went in there, and I rapped, and they let me get about 40 seconds off, and then they said — if they say “Next,” that means you didn’t make it, but if they say, “See Mrs.” and then they say the name, then that means that you’re invited back. I got invited back, and I came back, and then I won first place, and that was my first music check. It was $45 at the Apollo. And then that $45 wasn’t enough to change my life. So I went and I got a job at Bed Bath & Beyond.
THR Solid brand.
BAKER I had to do two weeks of training and then I got fired my first week for flirting with my co-employee. I was supposed to be at the register and I guess I was never at the register when people were checking out.
THR OK so one final music question before we get to your first acting role, and then it kind of overlaps from there. It’s 2011, you’re at SXSW, and again, you’ve been grinding for a while already, but something happens there that leads Sean “Diddy” Combs to seek you out.
BAKER Yeah, I got drunk and hung upside down from a speaker and—
THR As one does.
BAKER And kind of just shut the whole festival down. Everyone was talking about, “Oh, man, there’s this wild motherfucker running around here named Machine Gun Kelly.” We were popping up in all these different showcases. I knew what I had to do. I knew I didn’t have a voice that was… I knew I wasn’t out here singing like Sam Smith. I was just looking for my niche at that time. And I think my niche was like, “Oh, I know how to be crazy.” So I used that to kind of get everybody talking. It also kicked me in the ass later because being super crazy doesn’t age well.
THR But it worked there because Diddy asked to see you, and that was the beginning of you signing with Bad Boy Records?
BAKER Yeah, him and Jimmy Iovine trapped me in a room. That started it, and then it culminated with them. I was in Vegas. I still wasn’t 21 yet, but I was rolling with Puff the whole night, so it didn’t really matter. I was getting in all the places that I wasn’t supposed to get in. And yeah, it was like eight in the morning and I was like, “I’m going to bed, man, this has been amazing.” He was like, “Bed? Hold on. I got someone who wants to see you.” And then Jimmy Iovine walked in and they were like, “There’s a plane on the runway sitting for you and we’re going to Los Angeles and we’re going to do this record deal.” So I consensually got kidnapped.
THR That was the beginning of big things and led to your debut EP in 2012, Half Naked & Almost Famous —
BAKER Let me just cut you short. Basically, what happened is, me and Kendrick dropped an album at the same month, and God damn Kendrick blew me out of the fucking water right away. So I went back to the drawing board after that.
THR You have said that there was a period where, I don’t know if it was exactly then when you got really discouraged. The audiences weren’t what they had been — different. People should realize there are peaks and valleys in this, right?
BAKER Well, my album got pulled from the shelf. I had internal disputes for reasons that shall not be discussed, but my album got pulled. When you’re like, “Man, fuck the system,” and the system’s like, “Word, all right,” then you got to live with that. I lived with that. I didn’t release an album for three years after that.
THR Now did that have anything to do with you moving into acting, as well, around that time, or was that always in the plan?
BAKER No, I grew up loving Jackass. I was like, “This is the best TV I’ve ever seen in my life because it’s attainable. These people dress like me. They’re listening to the same music I listen to. The cameras are shitty and it looks like what I can film myself.” I always related to them. I wasn’t glamorous. My childhood wasn’t glamorous. I didn’t grow up being obsessed with the glossy filter on life. I thought that a show like Jackass was so innovative because it was raw. I was always the kid with the camera anyway — I was filming us skating all the time, or I was filming us getting high, or I was filming us just being teenagers, you know what I mean? And so I became obsessed with being behind the camera. And then I guess when I would film myself rapping, I was in front of the camera.
THR Being part of some really good films started around that time. I mean, you were in an earlier film by the woman who’s now getting great accolades for The Woman King —
BAKER Oh my God, it’s amazing. That movie is so good.
THR Gina Prince-Bythewood. This is 2014, Beyond the Lights, you were playing Kid Culprit, a rapper who was not very nice to Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character. I think that was your first time working in an important movie with an important director. Did you feel at home right away, or was it a bit of an adjustment? What do you remember from that one?
BAKER Well, I remember really being grateful to her for having faith in me. I know it was between me and a couple other people, and she went with me. I feel a little remiss that I had no problem showing up hungover. I was always very respectful of everybody. I wasn’t respectful to myself. I wasn’t at the point where I was like, “OK, I only have a couple of lines. How can I make this really pop off screen?” I think it worked, but nowadays I wouldn’t approach it the same way. I really do respect the craft. One of my favorite movie scenes ever was in this movie called Glengarry Glen Ross, which is a really, really boring movie, but Alec Baldwin has this five-minute monologue that blew my fucking mind. He comes out, and he talks for five minutes straight, and he’s like, “Coffee is for closers.” He goes on this whole thing, and then you never see him again. He does this five-minute appearance and he made it count, and it maybe wouldn’t have counted if he wouldn’t have made it what he made it. So I’m never going to take another movie again that I have five lines in—
THR You’ve got to start somewhere.
BAKER That would be the first 10 movies that I did. I didn’t start and move on. I kept doing it. I was like, “Yeah, dude, I’ll do four lines on this movie.” Next movie I was like, “Yeah, dude, I’ll do three lines on this movie.” Next movie I was like, “Yeah, dude, I’ll do six lines in this movie.”
THR The hunger seems to have always been there, though. Let’s take for example, the TV series Roadies. This is Cameron Crowe, who’s also a guy who knows a hell of a lot about music, right? I know you were a big Almost Famous guy.
BAKER One of the best movies ever made. Fuck.
THR So with Roadies, you really went after that one, right?
BAKER Yeah, I went after every role. I mean, even the roles that I had three lines in, I auditioned a hundred times. When I played Tommy Lee in The Dirt, I auditioned six times. That’s not unlike what I did for a lot of the other ones. Even Beyond the Lights was probably around the same amount of times. So I did six times. On my sixth time for The Dirt I was like, “Well, I’m pretty sure I got the role at this point.” They called me back in for this audition, I’m pretty sure it’s just a chemistry reading, and dude, I walked into the — well, on the way I got into a car accident. The guy hit me, so it wasn’t my fault, but I don’t have a license. We were in the middle of an intersection on Cahuenga and something, which in L.A. is a big street. My car was wrecked, so it wouldn’t drive, and it was the guy’s fault, but I was like, “I don’t have my information to exchange with you. I don’t even have a license.” I’m like, “Dude, just go.” And I left my car and I ran to the audition. And I got in and there were two other dudes with drumsticks and long hair sitting in the fucking lobby. And I’m like, “Still?! Like what the fuck dude. They’re still looking for Tommy.” I for sure thought it was me. And I went into the audition and then I closed it — coffee’s for closers — and I got the role and I was like, “Man, this is my first big movie.” I thought it was going to change my life. And then everyone was like, “Yeah, but he’s a musician playing a musician,” so they wrote it off as an easy gig.
THR I guess another legacy of Roadies is that Cameron felt there should be a difference between the guy who’s doing music and the guy who’s acting…
BAKER Yeah, he always called me Colson. That was the first time I started hearing my name, was Cameron.
THR And you like that?
BAKER Yeah. Well, I had a parking space and it said Colson Baker and I was like, “Sick.” No one ever called me by my name. Even when I was in school, no one called me by my name. Even my teachers knew I was “Machine.”
THR But in those days it was probably welcome. That was your persona. At a certain point, as you became better known, it was probably nice for people to remember there’s a real person behind Machine Gun Kelly.
BAKER Yeah, kind of. I mean, Cameron was kind of a father figure to me. So I felt like that was when I started to become a softie.
THR As the acting was getting going, of course, the music was still going, too. The same year as Roadies was your first top 10 Billboard single, you and Camila Cabello with “Bad Things,” which goes to number four and maybe made people start to think about you a little differently?
BAKER I didn’t care.
THR It wasn’t exciting to have that kind of popular success?
BAKER [90-second pause] You know when you see yourself about to fuck yourself with something that you’re going to say? I’m just going to stop myself.
BAKER I’ll say this. The chip on my shoulder of “I need to really make something that is mine, that I’m proud of,” that didn’t hit yet, that came later. There was this album I did called Hotel Diablo and there was a song, “I Think I’m OKAY.” That’s when I started. Accolades don’t make me proud of myself because what I learned from mommy and daddy issues is it’s not outside validation that really matters. If you look at me in my early 20s — and trust me, the internet reminds me plenty of fucking times — I look like a boy who doesn’t know who he is. And that’s OK, because I didn’t know who I was ’til much later in my life.
THR Meanwhile, the movies continued with some very good directors — Susanne Bier with Bird Box, one of Netflix’s biggest hits; Judd Apatow with The King of Staten Island, and I know you’re friends with Pete Davidson —
BAKER My dawg, my dawg.
THR And then in 2020, there was this kind of big turn that caught a lot of people by surprise but was the beginning of a new chapter for you, your fifth studio album, a departure from rap heading towards pop punk. This is, of course, Tickets to My Downfall.
BAKER I got to stop you. I never “departed” from rap.
THR No. OK, that’s the wrong word.
BAKER This is what is so mindblowing to me is this is what happened. I’m talented as fuck and I added on to my catalog of four great rap albums. So what I did was I added on, never departed, left or switched. Because in the same year I was the most viewed YouTube video putter outer with all rap, which was my lockdown sessions, which gained more views than almost any of my other videos. And it was hundreds of millions of views of me rapping. So when people decide to, and this isn’t you—
THR I apologize, it’s the wrong word.
BAKER Is there cameras in here?
BAKER Good. [Looks into camera.] Motherfucker, listen to what I’m saying. When you conveniently leave that out, that when quarantine happened and everyone was stuck in the house with no new entertainment, and I picked up my cell phone and put this thing on and wrote my ass off and rapped my ass off weekly, giving YouTube reactors ways to make content and giving audience members at home who are like, maybe I didn’t even like him, but he’s the only content coming out right now, so I’m going to watch it just to see what’s going on. And then you watch it and you’re like, “Damn, he’s actually saying some shit.” I was rapping. And then later on we dropped a number one album that was a pop-punk album. So when they say “departed” or when they say, “Oh, man, you switched.” Motherfucker, are you dumb?! That’s literally telling you two-plus-two doesn’t equal four. It’s on paper, it’s black and white, it’s right there in front of you. You know what my problem is right now? Because I’m going to rant. But this is my issue. Someone said the other day to me — they were going to do what you’re doing and they asked me the first two questions and I said, “Let me stop you right there, did you even see the movie?” And she goes, “Oh, I saw the beginning.” And I’m like, “Yo, this is the whole issue with journalism right now.” I dare a motherfucker to tell any artist right now, “Oh, man, your content man, the album content, it’s not shit.” “Neither is your journalism.” Why would they have any reason to make any good content fucking anyway? Because you motherfuckers aren’t even listening to what the fuck they even have to say for them to even care to say anything deep enough because they don’t even trust that you’re going to dive deep enough to know what you’re saying. I said, “I use a razor to take off the edge, jump off the ledge.” You know what they go? “MGK uses cheap, obvious rhymes,” razors and cut. I’m not talking about cutting my wrist, dumb-dumb. I’m talking about, I use a single-blade razor to shave my face because I have so much anxiety I can’t sit the fuck still for five seconds. The only time I have in the day because I don’t meditate, because I drink so much, because I smoke cigarettes like it’s my fucking job, the only time I give myself to calm down, to take off the edge, is when I use a razor to take off the edge, to just sit there for five minutes and shave my face. That’s one line in the first song of that album. If you couldn’t even dissect the first song of the album right, why, if I’m an artist now, would I care to say anything other than “Shit, I’m lit.” So I don’t want to hear it because of course everyone’s going to make shit that is like, eh, if you’re not even caring to review it. Like, you go back to magazines and read the way that they studied these albums. Oh, my God. If you studied some of the double, triple entendre that I’ve thrown in these albums, or the depth in which people are like, “Are you OK?” And I’m like, “Do you listen to the fucking songs I make? No, I’m not OK” I’ve said it forever. The depth of our culture needs to… We need to dive more. We’re tripping. Why did I start this rant?
THR Well, I used the word “departure,” which was bad.
BAKER I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s the narrative. That’s the narrative they try to do.
THR But I am aware that it’s not what happened, and it was a bad choice of words. Maybe “expansion.” Can we say that of what you…
BAKER Yes. Say that I’m very talented and I added on to my shit. What do you think? I was at home and I was like, “Well, man, I guess I got to depart from rap.” What?! You don’t think that maybe I’m just inspired by all this. You don’t think that maybe I grew up listening to all this? What did we grow up in, a jail where they’re like, “You get one album, one genre and that’s it. You got to do this.” I just did a whole tour where I literally come out of a box. The metaphor of “Don’t put me in a box.” If that’s not the most fucking obvious sign of please stop putting me saying that I departed or that I switch. [Turns to interviewer.] This isn’t you. I love you to death. I’m really sorry. This isn’t you.
THR Don’t worry about it.
BAKER You’re the muse to get this rant I needed to have anyway.
THR I’m happy you’re getting it out. Now, the fact that you titled it and your next album what you did, speaking of double entendres or other meanings, can you just talk about that? Because I think you’re commenting there as well about some of what you’re saying now.
BAKER Tickets to My Downfall. Yes, absolutely. The time between making Tickets to My Downfall and Hotel Diablo was the time that in pop culture, everyone was writing me off. It became an easy scapegoat to be like, “Fuck this guy.” The world always needs somebody to point their finger at. Their fingers are bored, they need something to do. So apparently I was chosen to be the guy that the finger goes at, and I chose to make a joke out of it. I made it ironic. And I gave myself an ultimatum, I put it in the universe. I was like, “This literally either will be my downfall or the joke will be on them.”
THR Which it was.
BAKER The joke is on them. And then Mainstream Sellout came because they were like, “Well, it was Travis Barker on drums, so obviously…” The effort they put into taking away instead of adding to their own lives is commendable. So I was stuck with another thing where I was like, “Well, I really do want to make a rap album right now.” But I was like, “Oh, I got to show them though that you can’t get lucky twice, so let’s do it again.”
THR So two number ones.
BAKER I came to Mainstream Sellout and that was a double entendre in itself because I was very mainstream at the time. And the pop-punk genre is very keen on using the word “sellout” and being like, “Oh, man, you guys got too big, so because you’re so big your shit sucks.”
THR It’s not cool to like you.
BAKER Yeah, it’s not cool to like you when you’re pop. It’s so funny, I talk about this all the time. It’s all the same people who are like, “Oh, fuck that dude.” I remember your faces back when I was broke and nobody. And they’re like, “Yo, bro, anything we can do to help you get to where you need to get to man.” Then as soon as you get there, yeah, fuck that. And then the double entendres is that we just went on a world tour and it sold the fuck out.
THR Now the thing you were saying though, Colson, about people trying to take away from you because of the collaboration with Travis Barker. That’s nonsense. But you do say that it’s kind of cool to work with somebody who you admired as much as you admired him, right?
BAKER Yeah, that’s my big brother. That’s one of my idols growing up. Yeah, absolutely. That doesn’t affect me at all. I owe so much to Travis and I acknowledge that. But obviously you can’t take away the song.
THR Not at all. And you acknowledge your influences. I mean it’s cool that you, not many people get to work with the people who inspired them anyway. But what’s also awesome is that in the middle of all of this musical creativity in the last year or so, you have been on a run of movies that you’re doing. It just seems like you’re more creative and productive and prolific than you’ve ever been in some ways. Let’s just note—
BAKER You don’t have to note. You don’t got to name the stuff. I know, but it’s embarrassing. Let’s just…
THR Really quick, really quick.
THR The Last Son in 2021. Midnight in the Switchgrass in 2021—
BAKER Don’t mention that.
THR We’re not going to mention it except for it did give one good thing, right? [Baker met Megan Fox on the movie.]
BAKER Yeah, don’t mention that one. I love my wife to death but don’t… Like me and her both, we—
THR Okay, we’ll skip that one. Good Mourning in 2022, a stoner comedy for a new generation, that you were a writer of and starred in…
BAKER Yeah, that shit’s funny.
THR One Way, also this year. And that brings us to Taurus, which is something that is really taking it to a different level, I think. Do you look at it as a big step forward for you as an actor?
BAKER Absolutely. I’ve waited my whole fucking life to be able to act, to actually be given a chance to act. This film is special, beyond it just being that it was my film; if somebody else made it and I watched it, I would be very happy that we had one of these for our generation. It’s the last week that a musician’s alive. I live very much feeling like that I’ve never been stable ever. I never really know what is going to happen. And I think I’ve watched a lot of my friends not make it through the other side. This movie is kind of just a real look at what this life does to you. Even down to the recording process it’s cool; this one we’re doing some recording on the voice notes on our phone and it’s very much how our generation records. It’s very raw and it doesn’t require all this thought that movies make it seem, but that’s just because these squares write this shit and try to talk like us or act like they know what we do in the studio. They don’t know what the fuck we do in here. And so it was like I got a chance to represent how our generation does it and what it’s like in the studio for us or what we’re doing. Even down to the drugs. I was very adamant about switching because in every rockstar film there’s always this drug sequence, which is very accurate in the sense of drugs are heavy in this life, but I wanted it to be something that it made you uncomfortable and that really is something that I lived. And so I had them do whippits. He would constantly be doing whippits through the film, and it was reflective of a phase I had where I was like, “I just really want to escape.” And it almost gets the voices out of your head for a second.
THR How did you even first get involved with this? What was the hook for you?
BAKER Me and Tim Sutton, who directed the film, were sitting in a cabin in Montana. We were doing that western, The Last Son. And he was like, “If you ever write a movie about your life or if you ever do a movie about your life, I want to direct it.” And I kind of just laughed it off. Three weeks later, he sent me the script that he wrote in the three weeks that we were separated, and it was the movie. I mean, we made changes — he was like, “This is kind of the skeleton, but just take it and build the body you want around it” — but he was very tapped in spiritually to who I was. He doesn’t know any of this shit that the character was doing in the movie about me, but it was exactly who I was.
THR Well, one of the big things that the character who you play in this film is grappling with is sort of a complicated relationship with fame —
BAKER But boo-hoo. When I was a kid, I hated hearing about that. I was like, “Fuck you, you’re famous. Who cares?” When I was a kid and I was watching them, I was like, “Go fuck yourself. I’m broke and I have no life and I want what you have. And I would do whatever it takes to have what you have. And your problems, I would do whatever to have that.” And to an extent, that kid is right, because this life is beautiful — the highs are the highest highs. But I will not front that — the lows are the lowest lows. You think coming off of, I don’t know, a hangover is bad, or the Tuesday Blues when you pop an X and then three days later you’re like, “Dude, I fucking hate everything,” when you were just three days ago, “Everything is purple, I love it.” I can’t explain what it is like every day when you wake up, there’s screams for you, you walk outside of your bedroom, you walk out on the street. And then I’ve lived those years when the screams stopped. And you’re like, “Nah, I need my drug.” And then you’re famous and they know your face, but the same excitement isn’t there, so then you become a jester, you are the butt of their joke. “Oh shit, that’s that one dude who had that song, dude.” You’re “that one guy,” you’re that wild boy. “Do something crazy!” I lived that. It was 3pm. “Oh, shit, dude, do something crazy, dude! Do it.” And you’re low. You’re like, “This is what I am to you?” And then you’ve lost it and you feel like, “Oh, my God, will I never hear those screams again?” And then the screams come back and then now what am I doing? Scared like a motherfucker that I won’t hear those screams again one day when I wake up. And then what happens when those screams don’t come? You can’t get that drug anymore, and it really is over because you’re old and you’re not hot to people anymore and there’s the next person who’s coming up with their shit. What do you do? Probably want to blow your fucking brains out because there’s no way to achieve that again. So I can’t sit here and put in words why that path ends up happening for a lot of people in this life. But that movie, it shows it. And the strongest character in that movie is played by Maddie [Hasson], who plays Ilana, who is my assistant, where he turns you off at every turn. He turns you off from liking him very often at the beginning of the movie. You’re like, “Oh, this dude’s an asshole, man.” But then you see he wants so bad to be good, and you see that she sees it in him, and she doesn’t leave him, and she sticks it out, and she understands that he was just a broken boy who has Peter Pan syndrome — which is me. You don’t want to grow up. You know what I mean? You’re a lost boy, but you have Wendy, and Wendy doesn’t want to be with the lost boy, but she’s like, “Come back home and be a grownup with me.” And you watch Peter Pan have the choice.
THR Who’s been the Wendy for you?
BAKER Must I say? [Fox.]
THR Why not score a few points! But do you think that she is the reason why you have, in the last couple of years, been so productive? You seem happier.
BAKER I seem happier? Didn’t you just hear everything I just said?
THR I did, of course.
BAKER So you don’t think that maybe I’m doing some of that because I’m so scared of losing the fucking screams? I’m on no sleep. It’s 10 a.m., I’ve drank my Bloody Marys. It couldn’t be more finished than it is.
THR It’s pretty finished.
BAKER What I want to be is a great friend and a great father and a great man to my lady and still be able to find some way where I can have this dream. In the comedy Good Mourning, I wrote this line that just like so many of my lines will go over people’s head. He’s trying out to become Batman in Good Mourning, and he chooses to go find his girl instead of going to the Batman audition, and there’s this line where it’s like, “You can’t have your job and have your love.” And then he goes, “Lose the girl, save the world or don’t save the world like Batman would.” Basically, it’s making fun of the fact that there’s always an ultimatum between your career and your home life. I don’t want to be the most successful man and be lonely and look like a certain motherfucker does right now. [An apparent reference to Kanye West.] And then I also don’t want to lose the screams.
THR Right. Well, I guess there’s no easy answers, but we can just say thank you for all the great work and for being here and for tolerating my questions. Apology for the one word that was bad.
BAKER Oh, no, no, no, no. Please do not apologize for creating a passionate environment. Give yourself props that this is the first time I’ve been able to speak my mind.
THR Thank you.
BAKER I stopped doing interviews because I’m so sick of being asked questions that don’t make me think or that don’t make me feel. Do you know how many years I’ve been sitting at the computer looking at these fucking people talk about me like this? And I don’t speak up for myself because it almost is acknowledging something in a way where I don’t want to act like I care, and I rely on my fans to hold me down. And they do, and they speak it for me. But how long I’ve waited? I’ve just sat there and heard this, “Oh, he departed, oh, he switched, oh, he” — Do you know how long? How much that kills me every day? That if I died tomorrow, I know every single person would be like, “Legend, dude, this motherfucker did this and did this.” And while I’m alive my flowers can’t be brought to me when I’m like, “Yo, I stepped up to the Blackjack table and bet my life on this hand. And when they turn the cards over? Blackjack motherfucker. I want my money while I’m here.” I don’t give a fuck about actual money. I’ve never once in my life looked at my bank account. I could care less. I care about real human interaction. That’s the shit to me.
THR Everyone has the opportunity to come see Taurus tonight and see this man get his well-deserved award. Thank you again. Really appreciate it. Thank you.
BAKER Thank you.